Monday, September 29, 2014
How could one week go by without visiting the market? Even on vacation in Japan we did no break this routine. LOL. Kuromon-Ichiba Market is one of the must-see places near our hotel. Dubbed as "Osaka's Kitchen" its just a short walk away. We were all very excited at the prospect of fresh seafood! Along the way there we passed by many restaurants that no doubt get their fresh ingredients from the market. An old man was also walking in the same direction and he made small talk with us in broken Mandarin.
Ojiisan: Going to the market?
Ojiisan: The seafood is very nice. But expensive!
Expensive coming from a local! Yikes. But anyway, we were prepared to gorge. The market looked like the shopping arcades of Shinshaibashi-Suji but with a difference in decoration. Giant seafood replicas were suspended from ceiling. The place was orderly, clean, dry and odourless, unlike the markets in Malaysia. Upon arrival at the market, SK immediately went for grilled scallops with sweet sauce. At another junction, we spotted fugu (pufferfish) in tanks and we immediately went for a plate of tessa, thinly sliced sashimi. Truth be told, I wasn't impressed. Kinda bland and chewy. No risk of tetrodotoxin poisoning cause the fish are can now be reared poison-free. The stall also sold blanched sea eel served with miso and plum sauce. Once blanched, the meat springs up like white blossoms. Pleasing to the eye. Further down the road, SK appeared with a big box of raw scallops. Think we downed twenty pieces in total. So sweet and succulent! Our main destination was a shop called Sanpei. It sold seafood and had a dedicated dining area. In our first sitting, we ate sea urchin, chutoro and hamachi. Excellent.
Continuing down, we found shops selling kitchenware. From pots and pans to ceramic knives. And strangely, we spent a lot of time at a second-hand kimono shop where SK bought a yukata and my mother played dress up. On the way back to the hotel, we made ANOTHER stop at Sanpei for more chutoro, oyster and geoduck sashimi, something that KH promised me for years! It was so yummy. Loved the crispy texture and the sweet taste. Think our raw breakfast cost us around MYR300.
In the afternoon, we met up with The Tribe for lunch. Had a difficult time finding a place to eat until a kind woman pointed us in the right direction.
Obasan: What are you looking for?
Moi: A place to have lunch.
Obasan: Reasonable price?
We actually went round in circles, missing the food area by just one junction. They gave us an octagonal table for the eight of us, with a faux hearth (irori) in the middle, complete with the traditional jizaikagi in the shape of a fish. Ordered some noodles and rice, but the kids were a little fickle that afternoon. They didn't eat much, but they later baham-ed the Moz Burger that SK bought. For department store shopping, we have Takashimaya a miss and went to 0101 instead. Still quite posh, but we did manage to buy some stuff.
Next up, SK went crazy at Muji. Huge selection at Muji Tower, but I did not buy anything. In the end, we stopped for tea at Muji Cafe. On the way back, we brought The Tribe to Shinshaibashi-Suji for some shopping. In the evening we did some last minute shopping at Takashimaya's supermarket where SK sapu Kobe beef while BIL sapu peaches (super sweet and juicy). To appease BIL's flagging appetite, we went Italian that night-- Milkhall at Nanbasennichimae. Pizzas and pastas were a crowd-pleaser among the tribe.
Walked back to the hotel and stopped at Toraya to buy some Japanese cloth. They only display the samples. When you want something, they cut a small piece of the cloth and send it to the warehouse via a pneumatic tube messaging system. The required length of cloth then magically appears on the counter. Haha. On the last night in Osaka, we had a farewell party with unagi, nigiri sushi, sake and yummy caramelized sweet potato fries from 551 Horai. Had to pack our bags that night as our flight was at 11:00 am the next morning...
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Woke up bring and early the next morning to have breakfast at the 24 hour Yoshinoya just outside the hotel. A very small place with about eight seats at the bar. Got the beef bowl (extra beef) and unagi with rice. The beef was so tender and juicy. Much better than the Yoshinoya in Malaysia. And no weird smell in the shop. The next city in our list was Kyoto (The Tribe went to Kaiyukan instead). Took the Keihan Railway from the Yodoyabashi station to Fushimi Inari station. Another fifty minutes or so. True to the weather forecast, it started raining at 11:00 am, just as we alighted. The station is just walking distance to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, dedicated to Inari Ōkami, the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and Sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success. The walk was pleasant, passing quaint little shops, a railway crossing and a river. The main feature of the shrine would be the vermilion torii lining the mountain path to the shrines and the fox (kitsune) statues, believed to be messengers.
The fox status are adorned with red votive bibs called yodarekake, and the statues are often depicted with a key or a ball in its mouth. The key represents the keys to the rice granary, a fitting symbolism since Inari is first and foremost the god of rice. With so much vermilion splashed around the temple grounds, its a fantastic place to take photos. Past the main gate and building are Senbon Torii-- two dense, parallel rows of gates lining the hiking trail up to Mount Inari. Each were donated by individuals or companies with the details inscribed at the back with black ink. We did not venture further up the trail due to the gloomy weather and headed back. SK worked her charm on a old lady selling vegetables at an intersection and got a good food recommendation.
She pointed us away from the tourist traps to a more subdued restaurant at one of the side lanes called Umiya. Turns out that the two women who operated the place are from China and had been living there for thirty years or so. They served simple dishes of ramen, fried rice and fried chicken which in my opinion was pretty good and cheap! Due to the rain, we were holed up there for longer than expected. Mattered not as we had a great time chatting with the ladies.
Although we had waited till 1:30 pm, the rain wasn't letting up. Left anyway, armed with our umbrellas and ponchos (KH looked like a big blue condom). Met up SK's ex-colleague and her boyfriend (they tagged along) at Nezamiya. Out front they were grilling unagi and KH couldn't resist. One for the road at around JPY3,000. Yummy, yummy, yummy. But the old lady was so stingy with her chopsticks. She would only part with one! Supposed to go to Kiyomizu-dera temple next. The ladies at Umiya suggested that we could take a nice stroll back to Gion, cutting through the residential areas and passing by several shrines.
For thirty minutes, we walked and walked, but our destination was no where in sight! LOL. But it was a good experience. Japanese households are very neat and tidy. And interestingly, many houses had tanuki (raccoon dog) statues out front with a sake bottle and oversized scrotum! Couldn't walk on further, so we hopped on to the train to Gion. From the station, it was another short walk to Kiyomizu-dera temple. However, the road was steep. On the way up, we saw Japanese rickshaw pullers. Mostly young men with thunder thighs dressed in black tights. Quite a sight to behold.
Many went to Kiyomizu-dera dressed in yukatas. Even the tourists as the clothes are available for rent. I didn't go into the temple complex, just walked around the grounds. So I did not see the large veranda at the main hall nor drink from the Otowa-no-taki waterfall that gives the temple it's name-- "Clear Water". The area around the temple was by far the most tourist-y with many shops selling food, crafts and souvenirs. One shop had a very eye-catching name-- Malebranche. Their specialty is green tea langues de chat. Awesome taste and not too sweet. I would have bought more if it was cheaper. LOL. KH and I wandered into a pottery shop and I was quite surprised by what I saw out the window. Two women were fretting over a boy out in the garden. I saw that they had a bottle in hand, but I was wondering why they 'fed' the kid at such a weird angle. Turns out the boy was urinating into the mineral water bottle. LOL.
Walked back to the streets of Gion and stopped at Cattleya, a cafe that claims to be built on the site of a former shrine. The selling point is that the coffee is made from the water from a sacred well on their premises. We drank the coffee, but as for the effects, I'm not too sure. Did some window shopping and then turned into Hanami-koji Street, an old street that represents Gion's culture and history. The street is lined with machi-ya, two-storey town houses, preserving much of the essence of old Kyoto. Unfortunately, we did not catch sight of any Maiko or Geisha.
Traveled back to Namba after that for a ramen dinner at Ichiran Ramen, Dōtonbori. The canal-side establishment came highly-recommended. While we were lining up, we were given order chits to fill up. One could customize the ramen according to soup strength, quantity of garlic, quantity of green onion, quantity of sliced pork, how much red sauce one wants and noodle firmness. Once you reach the top of the stairs, a vending machine greets you. Pay JPY790 for each bowl of ramen and add-ons at their respective prices. The machine will spit out vouchers for each item. On the wall is another board that displays available seats. The usher will bring you to your seats. The concept is simple-- a long bar with mini partitions. At the back is another counter for you to put your bags and hang your coat. Put the order chit and the coupon on the table in front of you. A mysterious hand will take your order and disappear. While waiting, feel free to fill up your cup from the dedicated tap. Out of the blue, mysterious hands would shove a bowl of steaming hot ramen in front of you and a bamboo curtain will slide down to give you privacy. Honestly, it was pretty good ramen, but if you want a more purist experience, forgo the red sauce.
Went walking along the canal after dinner, taking pictures and what not. Stopped a while at GU to buy their super affordable and fashionable clothes. Then visited Starbucks to get a tumbler for Apollo. Hard to imagine that people actually queued for coffee there. Such a long line. Back at the hotel, we organized a pyjama party with The Tribe. Potato chips, biscuits, Japanese beer, salami and nuts. Little Monster actually liked Asahi. Asked for more. He was quite worked up after two sips and kept rough-housing with KH! That night, I was quite horny and coaxed KH to bed. I requested him to recreate several of my favourite Japanese hotel room porn scenes. Rotated from the bed, to the chair, to the window. :P. The only thing I forgot was to shout "iku, iku" and "kimochi"! How could I?!
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
At KIX, we cleared immigration pretty quickly contrary to SK and KH's experiences (both of them had visited Osaka before!). Perhaps it was due to the arrival delay. The airport is pretty simple with no eye-catching features. Our first order of business was to purchase the Kansai Thru Pass. For just JPY5,300, one buys unlimited passage on trains and buses operated by forty different transport companies in Kansai. The pass lasts for three days, and the usage need not be on consecutive days. The only limitation is that it does not cover the Limited Express trains of Nankai Railway or Kintetsu Corporation. Doesn't really matter anyway as the Limited Express trains are just faster by ten minutes compared to the slower trains. Took about an hour for us to arrive at the Osaka-Namba station. For the whole ride, there was only one eye candy-- Kintetsu Karl, a tanned fella with big arms. Not very cute, but I'm sure some can appreciate his straight-ish charm. From the station, there was a direct link up to Swissôtel Nankai. And from there, we could access all the nearby malls and other train lines with ease. Since our rooms were not ready, we just left our luggage with the concierge. The guy who processed our passports at the reception desk was quite a cutie (dubbed Swissôtel Samuel).
Once everything was settled, we freshened up a bit and started our sightseeing. Went back down to the station to catch the Kintetsu-Nara train. It was another forty five minutes on the train and a short bus ride. To walk in the sun would have been too punishing! Got off outside Tōdai-ji, the Eastern Great Temple and we were immediately greeted by scenes of hungry Sika deer (regarded as messengers of the Shinto gods). The deer roam freely around the grounds of the temple which is accorded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Along the way to the Nandaimon, many stalls sold deer food to the tourists. They appear to be stacks of biscuits. Strangely, the deer go into a feeding frenzy once the visitors exchange JPY150 with the sellers. Many were seen trying to run away from the deer and while fleeing get their bottoms bitten. LOL. For some reason, the deer never raid the stalls. Well-trained I guess. It was very easy to camwhore with the deer. Extremely people-friendly.
The Nandaimon (Great South Gate) itself is an impressive wooden gate in Song Dynasty style. Judging by the grain of the wood, it looked like the great ancestor of wooden gates. While gaping in awe at the pair of 28-foot tall wooden Nio guardians at the gate, one had to be careful not to step on deer droppings. At the base of the sculptures were phallic wooden fences rubbed smooth over the years. If you'd sit yourself on once, I'm sure you won't get any splinters up your ass! Just getting to the gate in that heat sucked the energy out of us. Immediately ran into the Museum Cafe's air-conditioned interior at the Tōdai-ji Culture Center (where I spotted an athletic cutie, Tōdai-ji Tim). Sat down and ordered some snacks and drinks.
Once we had recovered, we continued our walk to the Daibutsuden (the Great Buddha Hall). Right outside the great hall, KH taught me how to perform the purification. Right wash left. Left wash right. Left rinse mouth. Right was left. Wash the ladle. Beside the entrance is the Yakushi Nyorai, Buddha of Medicine and Healing. The wooden sculpture is dressed in a red hood kinda like Little Red Riding Hood. People throng to touch the sculpture because it is said that whichever part you touch will be healed of its ailment. The main attraction is of course the Daibutsu, the world's largest bronze Vairocana statue. The 500 tonne statue took three years to complete and was recast several times due to damage. Beside the great Buddha are two Bosatsu and behind are a pair of guardians (Bishamonten and Komokuten). Another interesting attraction is the pillar with the hole the size of Daibutsu's nostril. Those who pass through are said to be blessed with enlightenment in their next life. I gave it a try and I must say that the hole looked a bit intimidating. To fit, one had to put both hands through and wriggle on the side. The interior surface had been worn smooth over the years and it was easy to pop out the other side like a well-lubricated dildo.
Travelled back to the Kintetsu-Nara station and did some shopping nearby. The shopping arcade had a huge two-floor Daiso! Got back to the hotel at about 4:30 pm. The arrangements were perfect as KH and I shared a room. Hehe. Had about ninety minutes to rest and freshen up. Of course KH and I needed to squeeze in some skank time as well. Our evening plans were at Ebisubashi-Suji. Joined the throngs right up to Ebisubashi, where one can best see the giant neon Glico Man. The place was bustling with energy. And KH pointed out to me cute guys who dressed in black from head to toe, with a stack of laminated cards in their hands. They would approach young guys and girls. We suspect that they were promoters for bars. Intimated by the crowds from Shinsaibashi-Suji, we decided not to walk there. Dinner was at Ganko Sushi (literally Stubborn Sushi) where we ate in the basement. Food was quite good and the service was fast. KH was quick to indulge in his love for toro and unagi, the perfect summer food.
In Dōtonbori, we experienced kuidaore, a Japanese word meaning roughly "to ruin oneself by extravagance in food". Restaurants seem to try to outdo each other in appearance. One of the landmarks is Kani Doraku, with its giant moving crab billboard. A huge line forms at the front for its grilled crab legs. SK didn't get to try it as they were sold out! As a consolation, we managed to buy a box of takoyaki from the famous Otakoya and best of all, the staff manning the stall was a sweaty cutie (dubbed Otakoya Oswald). As we slowly walked back home, we bumped into a Japanese lion dance (shishimai). Quite different from ours with a just small wooden head. It bit the head of several people to bring luck. In another corner, a father and son team were doing an acrobatic comedy while people were drinking around the nearby bars. Before calling it a day, we raided the Family Mart to buy some premium Asahi beer. Gave the necessary buzz for some Japanese bed sport! Kimochi!